The best way to get free Wi-Fi in Kyoto is to stay in a Wi-Fi hostel or hotel. After a big day out, you can relax in your pajamas while catching up with friends from home or uploading your photos, leaving your day free to go sightseeing.
Surprisingly, you are more likely to get free Wi-Fi at the cheaper accommodation providers, like Hana Hostel, J Hoppers, Roujiya or Khaosan Guesthouse. A lot of business hotels, known for its compact, no-frills 3 star service levels, also provide free Wi-Fi. Hotels like Dormy Inn or Toyoko Inn are also known for its excellent connectivity in all its guest rooms as well as the public reception areas. They also offer free internet computers at their reception or front desk areas. Higher up in the luxury stakes, Hotel Monterey in Karasuma Sanjo offer Wi-Fi in all their rooms. Most other hotels, like Karasuma Kyoto Hotel, only offer it in their reception area, and only to guests who are given the password.
Getting free Wi-Fi on the go in Kyoto, however, will require a little homework, as most providers require you to send an email in advance. You will then get a password which will open up Wi-Fi for your smartphone or tablet. In order to send this email, you need to have Wi-Fi in the first place. So either you do this from the hotel, or go to a Seven Eleven or Lawson’s convenience store. The Lawson's next to Dormy Inn, just north east of Kyoto station even has a seating area where you can surf while eating one of their snacks.
If you are at Kyoto Station during the day, you can go to the Kyoto Tourist Information Center "KYO NAVI" on the 2nd Floor of the Kyoto Station Building. It is one floor up from the central exit, on the west side up the escalators. The information counter is open from 8:30 to 19:00 every day, and it has free Wi-Fi as well as paid internet access.
On the other hand, if you are walking along Shijo dori between Kawaramachi and Karasuma Stations, you can access the shijo-0123456789 network, using the password 0123456789.
Providers with free Wi-Fi include Kyoto City Tourism. This is mainly confined to the main roads in Central Kyoto offering 3 hour periods of Wi-Fi. For SSID: KYOTO_WiFi01, send a blank email to email@example.com. For SSID: KYOTO_WiFi02, send a blank email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Most people will use WiFi01, as WiFi2 is mainly for Government Offices. If you are not sure, you can always send two separate emails to each address. You can use this Wi-Fi at most subway station platforms between Kyoto and Karasuma Oike, where they have a special Wi-Fi sign showing availability, as well as major bus stops.
Then there are the hot spots in Starbucks. The ubiquitous green café opened its first doors outside North America in Tokyo, and it has never looked back since, with Starbucks in most parts of Central Kyoto, including Karasuma Sanjo. Wi-Fi is why many people go there, but sitting outside on their cafe terrace next to the Karasuma Kyoto Hotel, it is a nice way to keep in touch. There are over 20 Starbucks cafes in Central Kyoto, however, Kyoto Marui and Kitaoji Kansai Denryoku cafes do not have Wi-Fi at the moment.
If you prefer something more chic, there is always Iyemon Salon and Café, near Karasuma Sanjo. You can use their computers for an hour if you order something from their menu, and they offer free Wi-Fi as well as power outlets to charge your phone.
Next, there is the JR West Free Wi-Fi service, which is limited to the Kyoto Railway Station area, though they also offer it in Osaka and Kobe. To use the service, you must send a blank email to email@example.com, and then you will obtain a guest code (ID), along with detailed instructions which are in English and Japanese. You can then use it for up to 8 days at selected stations. It is best if you send the email before you get to the train station, as it may be difficult to find a free Wi-Fi spot amongst the crowds. I tested by sending an email from Australia, and I got a reply immediately from WIRE AND WIRELESS Co.,ltd . To ensure you receive this email promptly, you may wish to add this address to your contacts so it doesn't go to spam mail. The 8 day period doesn't start until you enter the guest code. All the information is available here.
Occasionally when you are strolling, you may come across the SSID for Wire and Wireless (Wi2) “Wi2 300”. They offer a one day wireless plan for free for Visa cardholders, with discounted pricing after that. This service is spasmodic, so don’t use it as a substitute for a phone if you are making appointments to meet people. It can be good as it does cover some cafes and public areas, so in central Kyoto you may get coverage a few times a day as you move around.
Generally speaking, Wi-Fi is not available in most sightseeing spots, like Kinkakuji, Ryoanji or other world heritage sites, so if you are planning to use wi-fi as a backup phone/ email to meet your friends, it is probably easier to meet at a café, hotel lobby or Lawson’s store. Nijo Castle is one of the few world heritage sites that has Wi-Fi. Another website that has comprehensive maps of Free Wi-Fi spots is Freespot.com, which includes listings in both the city and country areas.
My favorite Wi-Fi when I am on the go, however, is Wifi.com’s pocket Wi-Fi, particularly out of Central Kyoto, in places like Higashiyama, Uji, Muko and Kameoka where it is difficult to get free Wi-Fi. While pocket Wi-Fi is not free, you are guaranteed Wi-Fi anywhere in Kyoto city for less than 600 yen a day on a ten day plan. It is quick, and as long as the battery is charged each day, you will have unlimited Wi-Fi. Of course, keeping your Wi-Fi and phone charged during lunchtime at a cafe will ensure you remain connected.